‘Be the Voice’: Residents push new anti-bullying program


ROSWELL, Ga. – Just about everyone has a story about being bullied in school. Whether it was physical or emotional, bullying seemed a part of life and, when we “tattled,” adults would typically see bullying as building character.

If only there had been a way to stop bullying.

Far from wishful thinking, however, a pair of Roswell Rotarians and residents are attempting to do just that. Deborah Cwalina and Michael Schoppenhorst created the “Be the Voice” anti-bullying campaign.

“I had always had a soft spot for kids who had been bullied,” said Cwalina. “I grew up with a brother who suffered at the hands of bullies.

“People from our generation say it’s a rite of passage,” she said. “While that may be true of that generation, it doesn’t need to be the norm.”

Plus, society has changed. Bullying no longer stops at the school doors or outside a student’s home.

“When you see kids committing suicide over posts on social media, that’s taking it too far,” Schoppenhorst said. “With social media, the whole school knows about it. And there are apps that allow people to be anonymous. We want to help these kids by making them feel empowered.”

While there are plenty of programs dedicated to stopping bullying, most are focused on either stopping the bully or helping the victim. “Be the Voice” instead focuses on those around the altercation – the bystanders.

“Where there is a bully, there is a bystander,” Cwalina said. “If the bystander is quiet, they are giving support to the bully subconsciously.”

The Roswell pair decided to create a program to encourage kids to watch out for bullying and stand up against the bully. While many anti-bullying programs hand out literature or hold lectures, “Be the Voice” is more active in its approach.

Videos can be watched weekly for several months, and each video can be tailored to a different theme. If a school has had issues with cyberbullying, the videos can be geared toward that subject. Twelve videos are provided and the students watch them, then discuss.

“After the video plays, the teacher can have conversations with the class of the theme. The rest is up to the students. They take ownership of the program and make it creative,” Cwalina said.

“These kids sit in school all day long, listening to teachers. We wanted something to catch their attention. The videos show creative ways where kid can make a difference. Each story is told by someone witnessing a situation where a bystander impacted it.”

“It takes a spark to catch their attention,” said Schoppenhorst. “It’s going to sink in more.”

The only requirement for the program is that the subject school must have a Rotaract club. This is the school group affiliated with the Rotary Club. In Roswell, the program is free for participating schools, with the Roswell Rotary Club picking up the tab.

Cwalina and Schoppenhorst say four local schools have already signed up for the program, with several more exploring the possibility.

For more information on the “Be the Voice” campaign, visit www.btvstopbullying.com.

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